Rocket pack. Check. Ray gun. Check. Crazy British writer. Check.
What more could a new "Adam Strange" series ever need?
This September, one of DC Comics' premier science heroes returns in an eight-issue mini-series by acclaimed writer Andy Diggle ("The Losers," "Swamp Thing," "2000 A.D") and artist Pascal Ferry ("Action Comics," "Tom Strong," "Wildcats 3.0"). As part of CBR's continuing spotlight on DC Comics series that are changing the face of the DC Universe, CBR News spoke with Diggle about the series and explained Strange's history for new readers.
"Adam Strange first appeared in 'Showcase' back in 1958. He was an ordinary Earth archaeologist who got zapped by the Zeta-Beam - an interstellar teleportation device which beamed him trillions of miles across space to the distant planet Rann, where his brains, courage and determination soon made him the champion of the planet. He fell in love with - and eventually married - the beautiful Alanna, and they had a daughter called Aleea. It all sounds pretty idyllic, except for one drawback - the effect of the Zeta-Beam was only temporary, which meant that Adam would eventually fade back to Earth. Usually just after he'd saved the planet Rann from yet another unspeakable calamity, but just before he'd had a chance to hit the hay with Alanna. Frustrating or what... ?" says Diggle.
The new series begins with Adam Strange in Gotham City police custody and it seems that the hero has seen better days… and he will again, as Diggle explains the premise of the new mini-series. "It's already been well established that Sardath, Alanna's father and the inventor of the Zeta-Beam, found a way to make the effect permanent, allowing Adam to settle down on Rann permanently - so Adam made one last trip back to Earth to put his affairs in order. But the Zeta-Beam scheduled to return him to Rann never came for him. Nor did the next one, or the next. He's been stranded on Earth for months now, frantic with worry that something terrible may have happened to his adopted homeworld. And that's when he learns that Rann's star has unexpectedly gone supernova, wiping out all life in the system...
"Refusing to believe the worst, Adam sets off on an intergalactic quest to find out what's really happened to Rann and to save his family... if they're even still alive. And what he stumbles across is a conspiracy of intergalactic proportions...
"The series focuses very much on Adam as hero. We see Alanna and Sardath in flashback, but as the story begins, Adam doesn't even know for sure if they're alive or dead."
Diggle has never worked on an American superhero comic, despite the interest by "Losers" artist Jock and Diggle in working on Batman, and Diggle's announcement on "Adam Strange" surprised some. "I like the fact that he's just this regular guy," explains the British writer. "Sure, he's smart and courageous and determined, but it's not like he has any superpowers - just a jet-pack, blasters and a gift for quick-witted lateral thinking. Even on Earth that makes him an underdog compared to the super-powered denizens of the DCU - but when you pit him against an entire galaxy, he has to rely on brains rather than brawn to stay alive and save the day. Super-characters always seem to start beating the crap out of each other for no apparent reason, whereas Adam Strange is smarter than that. He's a thinking man's hero... although he still knows how to handle himself in a fight! He's Indiana Jones in space."
Diggle's been a fan of Adam Strange for some time and reveals the stories that influenced him, saying, "Like a lot of readers, my first introduction to the character was the two-part 'Swamp Thing' story by Alan Moore, followed by the 'Man Of Two Worlds' mini-series. Before I started work I read his other guest appearances in titles like 'Starman' and 'JLA,' as well as the original 'Showcase' and 'Mystery In Space' stories in the hardback archive collection. It gave me a good sense of which elements are essential to any Adam Strange story, which elements are suitable for updating, and which elements have been endlessly done to death."
Some fans fear the series will be dark and gritty, as preview pages show a down-at-heel Adam in police custody. Cast those fears aside, says Diggle, adding, "Adam is the same guy he's always been, although he starts off at a low ebb because he's stranded on Earth and feels frustrated and helpless that he can't save his family. But it's not long before he takes the initiative and kicks the action into high gear. Crazy aliens, homicidal war droids, insane aerial jet-pack dogfights and exploding star-systems follow in short order. The emphasis is very much on spectacular sci-fi action... with brains."
The richness of the Adam Strange mythos has made the character a cult favorite, with the Buck Rogers-style space adventures, the high-tech gizmos, the intergalactic romance story and the politics of Rann itself. So how does Diggle balance all those elements? "It's all about staying true to the spirit of the character and his original premise. Most comics characters have been around for decades, and are constantly reinvented and updated to make them relevant and engaging for each new generation of readers. Batman, for example, has had countless style makeovers, from the Adam West TV show to 'The Dark Knight Returns' and all points in between. But they were all successful because they all in some way stayed true to the spirit of the original character. That's what we're doing with Adam Strange. The task I set myself was to create a story which uses all the traditional, essential elements of any Adam Strange story - the Zeta-Beam, the jet-pack, Rann, Alanna and so on - but uses them in a way that's new and unexpected, so the readers genuinely won't now where it's all heading or how it's going to work out in the end. This story has none of the cozy predictability of the 1950s about it."
For the romance nuts, and Diggle knows who you are, the Adam/Alanna romance will play a large role in the series. "It's what drives him," says Diggle. "All he knows - or desperately believes, I should say - is that his one true love is out there somewhere in the wider universe... and he'll search for her one world at a time if he has to."
As though re-introducing Adam Strange to readers wasn't enough, Diggle has been tasked with re-establishing DC's sci-fi universe, an opportunity he relishes. "DC gave me pretty much a blank canvas to work with - an canvas the size of the universe! All they asked was that I include a few cameos from the likes of L.E.G.I.O.N., the Omega Men, the DarkStars and so on, which is fine by me. Adam Strange is an explorer by nature, and his quest will lead him to numerous worlds - so who better to introduce these characters to new readers?"
Now Diggle respects continuity and the love that many fans have for comic hero histories, while DC's superhero timeline has become a lot more malleable in the last few years. Diggle offers his thoughts on the dreaded "c" word. "Continuity can be a no-win scenario if you're not careful. Adhere to it too closely and you'll tie yourself in knots and end up with something that's completely impenetrable to new readers. Discard it completely and you'll alienate your most devoted fans. It's just a question of getting the balance right - knowing which are the important broad strokes without sweating the small stuff.
"Of course, continuity is almost always self-contradictory and never seems to make much sense when you look at it too closely anyway, and I've found that even the most rabid continuity freaks can be a bit selective about what they consider 'canon'. Any bit of continuity they don't like - such as the fact that Sardath found a way to make the Zeta-Beam effect permanent - they sometimes prefer to ignore. Fortunately that's not a huge problem with Adam Strange, because he doesn't come with too much backstory baggage - everything new readers need to know is explained in the first few pages of our first issue. It should please the old-school traditionalists and new readers alike. We'll see!"
As mentioned earlier, Pascal Ferry is the artist on 'Adam Strange' and though Diggle is now his number-one fan, he didn't know much of Ferry before this project. "That was entirely down to DC - I wasn't familiar with his work until he was attached to the project," admits Diggle. "First thing I did was check out his work on 'Superman,' 'Tom Strong' and 'Wildcats 3.0,' which is all beautiful stuff.
"He has a real gift for sci-fi design, which is essential for this kind of story. Every issue takes us to a new alien world, and Pascal excels at creating the most beautiful and bizarre creatures, environments and technology. I'm making sure I give him a steady stream of aliens, robots, mutants, freaks and weirdoes to draw in every issue!
"His action sequences also have this incredible dynamism - the images really move. There's a ferocious jet-pack dogfight sequence at the start of the second issue, and Pascal's images practically leap off the page. You can almost feel the wind on your face. It's some of the most kinetic artwork I've seen since the bike chase scenes in 'Akira.'
Though "Adam Strange" is scheduled as a mini-series, don't think that Diggle wouldn't be happy to tackle the character again at some point. "I'd be happy to write Adam Strange again in the future - I'm having a whale of a time! And I definitely want to work with Pascal again. The guy's a star."
While you won't see any more DCU work from Diggle for a little while - which is almost odd, considering DC-exclusive writers all seem to be tackling Superman or Batman in some form - there is some work to look forward to. "No definite plans for any more DCU stuff just yet, although it's just a question of finding the time in my schedule. But I'm also working with an A-list artist on a creator-owned science fiction project for Wildstorm which hasn't been officially announced yet, which I'm very excited about. Watch this space!"